The Civil War, like all wars, was about politicsBy RALPH GORDON,
I read Thomas Howard’s editorial wherein he insisted that the War Between the States was about slavery. First of all, let us get the terminology correct. The war so many refer as the Civil War was not a civil war at all. It was a war for Southern Independence. A civil war is when one party of insurgents rebels against the existing power structure and attempts an armed takeover of that power structure for the purpose of setting up a new government. No such war ever occurred in the United States. The War Between the States was about the same thing all wars are about. It was about politics. War occurs when politics fail. In most wars, property and real estate get caught in the balance. This is what happened in America in 1861. The property was slaves and real-estate was Kansas and Nebraska. Ole Honest Abe might have been able to prevent that war but as my friend my friend Dan Coit pointed out, Lincoln refused to meet with the Southern delegation to try and avoid it.
Sadly, upwards to three quarters of million Americans died in that war. Lincoln’s war. That very sobering thought reminds me of a fact that perhaps you were not aware of. Most of the soldiers of the Confederate Army were not slave owners. Different historians quote numbers, but most of the agree, from 10 to 15 percent were actually slave holders. Then what were they fighting for? They were fighting because the “Yankees were coming.” With them came death and destruction. The cause of the American War Between the States cannot be understood without a clear understanding of the politics of American history from the 1830s up until war itself. To make a blanket statement that the war was about slavery is a statement born of ignorance. To paint with such a wide brush, would imply that every Confederate soldier was a slave owner and he was fighting to keep his slaves. Not true, neither were they fighting to preserve slavery for the wealthy plantation owners. Case on point: when Sherman made his bloody and merciless Meridian Campaign, he came through central Mississippi with some 28,000 troops. Let me be clear, 28,000. His army carried very little food or feed for their horses. In case you didn’t know, the Yankee soldiers stole the food from poor civilian farmers who were caught up in a war they never wanted. Most of his adversaries were women, children and old men with squirrel guns. Lincoln praised Sherman for his “great victory” in Mississippi.
Mr. Howard, how many books have you read on the war and the politics of the mid 19th century? I suspect not many. You are probably much smarter than I, but I challenge you to list the books you have read about that war and the politics of that era. You might have read more than I but unless you have read more than forty eight, I have you beaten. My reads also include the Shelby Foote Collection. Also my minor course of study in college was American History, for what it is worth.
One of the books I have read is Team of Rivals Dorris Kerns Goodwin. Read it. By the way Ms. Goodwin is no conservative. Her perspective is surprising and interesting for a New York liberal. If you want to understand the war, you must also understand Abraham Lincoln. He was not the Great Emancipator as so many believe. Don’t take my word for it. He clearly told Horace Greely, editor the New York Tribune at that time that his intention was to preserve the Union. He told Greely that he would save the Union “if it meant freeing all the slaves, part of the slaves or none of the slaves.” Does that sound like a war to preserve slavery?
Ralph Gordon, Union, MS, Author of The Invasion of 64 and essays of Mississippi history with multiple publications in history journals and magazines and Past President of the Mississippi Writers Guild.